My Coat with Many Pockets

When I was in my late teens, I heard Dolly Parton’s song, Coat of Many Colors and it landed softly on my heart. I was captivated by the message that it conveyed about the love that was woven into that patchwork coat and one’s perspective on life.

That song spurred my imagination and I conjured up a “Coat with Many Pockets.” It was an imaginary coat, pale pink in color and floor length. The coat was adorned with pockets of all shapes, sizes and colors inside and out and even on the sleeves and collar. Each pocket was intended to hold a memory or words of wisdom that would help guide me through life. Just creating this coat in my mind brought me a tremendous amount of comfort and hope. You see, I’d spent my childhood and teen years in constant turmoil and I sorely needed some reassurance that one day I would have a stable, happy life. I also had a very real awareness that I’d have to seek out the guideposts and encouragement that would help me achieve that. I was in search of good examples and worthy role models.

In a heart-shaped pocket on the inside of my coat, I placed warm memories of my beloved Aunt Betz. I chose to carry her close to my heart because she was the epitome of a loving mother in my eyes.

I was so blessed to have Aunt Betz in my life as I was growing up. Each visit to her home was like being in a fairy tale and a welcome reprieve from my childhood dysfunction. She would run a warm bath for me, scented with Calgon and leave me two big fluffy pink towels, a bathrobe and slippers. She’d make me tea and cinnamon toast cut into thin strips and play board games with me. She taught me to cook and bake and always had a cute apron at the ready. She is the one who instilled in me a love of word puzzles. She’d write Pennsylvania across the top of a sheet of paper and tell me to make as many words out of those letters as possible. All the while, she’d be preparing dinner and humming a tune. She would marvel at the long list of words I compiled and place shiny colored stars on the top. Once a year, I would get to stay with my aunt, uncle and their two sons at Rehoboth Beach for a whole week. It was the most magical vacation, full of love, laughter and sun-drenched days on the beach. This easy flow of a happy family became the image for my own future.

Throughout my twenties I tucked many words of encouragement and nuggets of wisdom into the pockets of my imaginary coat.

Harry Stacks, the editor of the Intelligencer Journal (local Lancaster County newspaper) and my first boss saw that I was capable of more than the minor secretarial duties he had for me. He offered me an opportunity to write articles for the women’s section of the daily newspaper. I never forgot his generosity in allowing me to explore my potential. I tucked that in a pocket of my coat and gave it a hearty pat.

Sometimes I would meet a person on the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia when I would take my infant son for his eye appointments at Children’s Hospital. That kind person would offer me some advice or assurance just when I needed it most. What anxious young mother doesn’t find comfort from an older mother offering hope and support? You bet — I tucked that in the very pocket I would warm my shaking hands in.

By now you can probably tell that my coat with many pockets is filled with love, encouragement, comfort and hope — random acts of kindness from people I have loved and from total strangers. Little did they know that they made a lasting impression on me. For many I am sure that they had no idea what I was facing in my life when they offered me their words of wisdom.

I met a Indian gentleman named Patel on a plane years ago that spent a generous hour sharing with me that “If you do good, you will get good. If you do bad, you will suffer.” He stressed that it was possible to meditate anywhere and to always be respectful of others.” I jotted down everything he said to me on the notes section of my iPhone and yes, tucked the memory of our time together in a pocket of my coat. It was at the onset of my mindfulness and meditation journey and his conversation felt like a nudge in the right direction. I remember a feeling of such peace as we chatted on that plane.

Once I was sitting alone having dinner on birthday and an older gentleman stopped by my table and told me I looked beautiful and to “keep care”. He had the same blue eyes that Skip had and I have never anyone other than Skip say “keep care.” That brief encounter touched my heart in a very tender way.

I’d been thinking a lot about my coat with many pockets recently and the comfort it has brought me over the years. People come in and out of our lives — some briefly and some much longer. If we are lucky, some leave an indelible impression that will carry us for a very long time.

Random acts of kindness may not be so “random” after all. Perhaps others can feel when we need a little life boost, or some emotional glue.

A few weeks ago, I shared this story of my coat with many pockets with a young woman I have befriended at my local grocery store. She was about to embark on an exciting new chapter of her life and was so happy to see me to share that news and to get some words of encouragement from me. It’s been our “thing” through the pandemic to offer each other inspiration and uplifting thoughts. Naturally she was a little nervous about taking this leap and following her heart to pursue her dreams. The image of my coat with all those pockets really resonated with her. As I reflect on it now, I think that my imaginary coat is a metaphor for being present, paying attention to others who have traveled life’s bumpy path and taking their words of encouragement to heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all. I hope you will tuck some of the love and joy of this day in your own pockets.

In loving memory of my buoyant, generous and sweet husband, Skip Davis, I share this, his favorite quote:

Big Dreams, Wild Imagination

I love discovering recurring themes that seem to bubble up as little nudges from the Universe. Over the past few days, the concept of “dreaming” has been weaving its way into my meditation, inspirational quotes, music and conversations. I have been sorting through a box of old keepsakes recently and found a brightly colored slip of paper with “Dream Big” scrawled across it. It brought back a flood of memories and the impetus to encourage myself to “dream big”.

It was a time of great struggle in my life. The dream I’d been living was now broken, a thousand jagged pieces scattered on the floor. My dear Skip had passed away so suddenly and I entered a year long fog that was thick, heavy and murky. I asked myself a million questions about what I was supposed to do with my life now. I’d lost my compass. As I slowly processed my grief, I found that I was also asking bigger questions about life than I had previously pondered.

Just before he died, I had confided to Skip that I was growing discontent with my banking career and he listened intently to my thoughts and feelings. He agreed that it was probably time for a change and said “whatever you decide to do, Amy, I will support you. Dream big.

I wrote DREAM BIG on a brightly colored piece of paper and placed it on my desk in the home office Skip and I shared. Skip’s desk was neatly organized with folders, tape dispenser, pens and cubbies full of small note pads, envelopes, stamps, bills to be paid. My desk had inspirational quotes of assorted shapes, colors and sizes randomly taped all over it. I had colorful journals, art supplies and a boxful of blank cards for all occasions. There was a small part of my desk that mirrored his, with tidy organization for serious things like work, bills and household to do lists. The “Dream Big” quote was smack dab in the middle of my desk.

A year after his passing, I found myself staring blankly at that quote and thinking mostly of a broken dream.

What I have learned about sitting on the floor with your broken life puzzle is that you often linger with more questions than answers. I believe this is a meaningful part of life and it must be done alone. I was attempting to put my life back together without pieces that were no longer a possibility. The questions that I found myself asking could only be answered by me. It was a leap of faith to follow what my heart was urging me to do. Oddly enough, what once scared me, or held me back, from taking action on a 15 year dream now seemed to be my saving grace. That dream was to have my own business.

I realized that all the fears I once had about the possibility of failing at my dream of having my own business paled next to facing the reality of both breast cancer at age 40 and the loss of my husband at age 50. It put fear in its place — the rearview mirror. I boldly took a leap of faith and I quit my 25 year career in financial services.

My business idea came from imagining a beautiful lingerie boutique for women who were facing breast cancer — a feminine, compassionate environment that was the polar opposite of the “impersonal and clinical feeling” medical equipment supply store that I had relied on for years. I had a bulging file full of ideas and a wild imagination for my vision of a better approach to help women ease into their “new normal” after breast cancer surgeries. Ironically enough, my timing for actually implementing my dream business was probably the best it could have been. I opened Annabella’s, a lingerie and breast care boutique, in Main Line, Philadelphia just when the local hospital systems were launching comprehensive breast care centers.

Dreaming big and imagination go hand in hand. Collectively hospital systems, business owners, medical teams and breast cancer patients had a bigger, better vision in mind for delivering holistic health care. Fifteen years after my own diagnosis, I witnessed a transformation in breast cancer care unfolding across the country. In my own community, I was able to be an active participant in the process. The opportunities I was given to both teach and learn far exceeded my wildest dreams.

This brings me back to this present moment, January 2021. My current meditation pack in Headspace has been encouraging a “dreamlike” quality to the meditation practice. A Toni Morrison quote turned up in an inspirational email. It read, “dream a little before you think.” As I walked the dogs in the morning, I listened to a song that was begging to be heard — Rainbow Connection sung so sweetly by Kermit the Frog. I found myself singing along about finding connection….the lovers, the dreamers and me. I was captivated by a study that revealed that small children are so much more innovative than adults about the plethora of ways a simple chair could be used for a variety of purposes. What might we learn from them when we give ourselves the freedom to DREAM BIG?

My answer to that question came while listening to Caroline Myss’ engaging presentation entitled “It’s Time to Imagine Something New”. Caroline is a New York Times best selling author and an internationally renowned speaker in the field of human consciousness, health, energy and a diverse array of personal development programs. Her discussion about our capacity to imagine was so enlightening and I found myself laughing as she pointed out that when it comes to negavity our imaginations know no bounds.

If you doubt that you possess a creative imagination, here’s some food for thought. Do you lie awake at night thinking about your worst fears? Do you come up with worse case scenarios for things that are happening in your life? Do you ever say “I cannot imagine having the courage to say or do that?” Caroline points out that some of our most creative and complex imagined scenarios come from the shadows of fear.

Rarely do people go over to the positive side of their imagination, she says. What if we could shift — and imagine the good, the better, the best – with the same wild abandon that we do for the worst? Imagination used this way sees what is possible. I was reminded of the phrase “the possibilities are endless”.

Caroline stressed that a lot of the problems we have in life require something new, something we have never thought about before. We often get stuck with only things that are familiar to us or limited by our worst case scenarios. This is true not only for our personal lives, but also for the larger complex problems that our communities and country are facing. The time is right for “out of the box” ideas that our most positive imaginations can conjure.

Brene Brown has been telling us for many years that the birthplace of creativity and invention is vulnerability.

Brene defines vulnerability as risk, uncertainty and courage. When I think of the people I most admire who are willing to risk for a good cause, who are unshakable in their integrity in the face of uncertainty and who show courage to face hard things, I think of them as fearless and brave. Maybe this is just what Brene is striving for — a reframing of what it means to be vulnerable.

Little children don’t limit their imaginations with negavity. They don’t consider risk, uncertainty and courage. They frame their adventures and innovations as opportunities, possibilities. They are fearless, inquisitive, playful. Caroline Myss points out that adults are the ones who place limitations on their imaginations and it is often out of fear. Fear blocks creativity.

Every day I witness evidence of the power of positive imagination, vulnerability giving birth to creativity and innovation, and a big dream of creating a better world. It unfolds before my eyes as I watch parents raising children in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. The creativity and patience they bring to a series of unique circumstances is heroic.

We can chose how we frame our problems. Consider a colorful, expansive frame that invites you to tap into your wildest imagination and see what is possible!

Dream Big. Imagine the world you want for your children and grandchildren. The possibilities are endless.

Recommended Resources:

Dream Big: Engineering Our World

Caroline Myss, It’s Time to Imagine Something New

Mental Reframing

Rainbow Connection, by Kermit the Frog

Greater Good Magazine – Purpose